(First of a four-part series)
(Note to readers: Practicing Catholics are obligated to attend Mass only once between sundown Christmas Eve and the end of Christmas Day. The Church, however, offers four different sets of Mass readings over that period: Vigil of Christmas, Midnight Mass, Mass at Dawn and Mass of Christmas Day. The rest of this series will offer readings and meditations for the other Christmas Masses. Please feel free to read and reflect on the readings for those Masses you do not attend!
(Also, though Christmas falls on a Saturday, Catholics remain obligated to attend Mass on Sunday, Dec. 26, the Feast of the Holy Family. Meditations on Sunday’s readings will be offered separately. May our Lord Jesus Christ, who became one of us to lead us back to His Father, touch you with His grace and mercy this Christmas and throughout the coming year.)
(Readings for all four Christmas Masses may be found in the New American Bible translation – the one used in most Catholic parishes – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/nab/122510.shtml)
First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
which the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty
in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem
in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My delight is in her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The Kingdom of God is at hand! Though our Messianic prophet would not see that day physically, he could not restrain himself from describing the new day long promised by God. Israel, corrupted by sin and torn in two by its effects, was forsaken and desolate, at the mercy of other great powers (in Isaiah’s time, Assyria). The glories of David and Solomon were likewise long past in Jerusalem. All this would change when the Messiah appeared.
But why would Isaiah describe His relationship with His people in terms of a marriage? Because Christ indeed would be the Bridegroom. His Bride would be the “new Israel.” And His Kingdom would bear a new name: Church. He would give everything He is and has to His redeemed people; freed and purified from sin through His sacrifice on the cross, they would be enabled to give themselves completely to Him. Thus are husbands and wives called to live sacrifical agape love with each other. And so are we called as the Bride of Christ, created in the “image and likeness” of God the Holy Trinity. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He is the perfect expression of love.
Second Reading: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 (portions of verses 13 and 14 are included in parentheses for context)
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
(Now Paul and his company … came to Antioch of Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.) Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: “Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And when he had removed (Saul), he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, `I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, `What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: In this reading, we look in on Paul as he begins a typical stop on his missionary journeys. As Jesus was first called to preach the Gospel to “the lost sheep” of Israel, so did Paul (and all the apostles) begin a visit to a new town by seeking out the synagogue. God promised a Savior for all humanity, but the message and that Savior Himself came to and from the Jewish people. They had to hear the Word before the Gentiles.
Remember how God liberated your ancestors from Egyptian slavery, Paul says. Has He not been faithful? Remember how God lifted up David as the ideal king and promised that his dynasty would never end? He kept His promise in David’s descendant, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, to whom John the Baptist – well-known among all Jews, in Palestine and abroad – had directly pointed through his symbolic baptism of repentance. As Paul invited the Jews of Pisidia, so does he invite all people throughout all time: Believe in the Messiah! He indeed has come, just as God said!
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25
The beginning of the holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to You, Lord.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,
and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,
and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa,
and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah,
and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah,
and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor,
and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud,
and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: These thoughts will focus on the first portion of the Gospel, as the latter portion was read just a week ago as the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year A. (For meditations on the latter portion, please go to last week’s meditations on foamcage.com at foamcage.com/catholic-in-omaha/meditations-on-weekend-scriptu….)
These are the famous “begats” that open the New Testament. What can the purpose be of reciting all these names, many of which we read nowhere else in the Scriptures? Because Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for the children of Israel, who had spiritually and physically borne God’s promise of a Savior throughout all the centuries since God called Abraham out of Ur to settle in Palestine and become a great nation. It was vital to show the Jews that Jesus had the correct bloodline.
Matthew does not give the names of every generation between Abraham and Christ, as is clear from the many lists of families in the Old Testament. But many of the names he does choose to give – “twice seven” generations three times over – bear spiritual significance of their own.
Consider, for starters, the four women whose names appear in the line of descent, all of whom were Gentiles or at least married to Gentiles. By God’s grace, each was granted a role in physically transmitting the promise of the Messiah so that the “Son of Man” clearly descended not only from the Jews but from the Gentiles as well!
Genesis 38 relates the story of Tamar, Canaanite daughter-in-law of Jacob’s fourth son Judah, who deceived him (by dressing as a prostitute) into fathering her twins.
Rahab (Joshua 2, 6) is a true Canaanite “harlot” who nonetheless was spared from the destruction of Jericho because she hid the spies sent from Joshua.
Ruth, as we know from her book, was a Moabite who refused to desert her widowed mother-in-law and thus became the great-grandmother of King David.
Finally, we read of “the wife of Uriah” – Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), who likely was a Hittite as was her first husband. Despite David’s great sin of adultery with her, compounded by his indirect murder of Uriah, she later bears the great King Solomon. And mother and son foreshadow (1 Kings 2) the relationship between Israel’s king and the “queen mother” that has been fulfilled in Jesus and His mother Mary.
The list of David’s royal descendants include the most faithful of Judah’s kings: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah. Exiled King Jechoniah (Jehoiachin) continued the Messianic line in exile in Babylon (2 Kings 24-25). Finally, Zerubabbel (Ezra 2-6) helped lead the exiles home to rebuild the Temple destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Then David’s line falls into obscurity – until the One long promised was born, the son of Mary by the flesh but clearly the son of David through both His mother and His foster father.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be